Three years in, it’s hard to recall the early days of the pandemic when the sudden need to support remote work on a mass scale resulted in the proliferation of collaboration, mobile deployments, expanded VPNs and expansion of wide area network connectivity. Organizations rapidly deployed solutions to support remote workers, and unless they already had a remote work initiative underway, deployed those solutions in an ad-hoc fashion with whatever tools were available. At the same time, workers often found tools to solve their immediate needs, causing shadow IT to spread like wildfire in ways not previously imagined. As a result, the tech environment is full of disparate tools, some unsupported by the organization.
And while it seems like the early days of the lockdown-prompted move to remote work would be old news, most organizations are still feeling the effects because priority has not been given to strategically re-align the organization's communications and collaboration initiatives with current and future business needs. Things rapidly deployed without a long-term plan are still in place. While upgrades and adjustments may have occurred after the technology was deployed, they were done with a focus on the existing technology in place, rather than overall organizational goals.
This year, it's time to re-evaluate how communications and collaboration technologies align with current and future organizational priorities and initiatives, then create a strategic technology plan.
There Is No One Perfect Product or Service
When organizations begin to think about “which tool is the right tool,” they often have the expectation there should be a silver bullet solution. “Just tell us which technology is the right one from among the list of things that are in use in our environment." The answer is not quite that simple. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all-solution because the best solution set depends on multiple factors, including an understanding of the organization's strategic and organizational requirements.
Key point: A communications solution has historically been deployed by picking a technology, and then force-fitting workflows around it. Strategic alignment depends on understanding the workflows first, and then selecting technologies to fit the workflow and organizational process.
Do Some Information Gathering Before Planning
To kick off a strategic plan initiative, be sure to consider the following elements:
- Organizational goals and priorities such as improved efficiency, increased sales velocity, improved customer experience, and support for hybrid or remote work
- Organizational culture, because knowing whether the organization is hierarchical, functional, multi-divisional, flat, matrix, team-based, or circular will impact which types of technologies fit best
- Organizational policies -- for example, hybrid work policies or tight privacy requirements
- What type of infrastructure exists or is planned for, such as on-site data centers, server infrastructure, cloud initiatives, mobile/Wi-Fi coverage, and building/campus layouts
- Network particulars, including security plans, internet connectivity, firewalls, and VPN requirements
- Collaboration, and CRM tools, such as Microsoft, Gsuite, or Service Now
- Existing service contracts and license commitments, and when those commitments expire
- Any existing projects underway that must be considered as part of the plan
Conduct a Needs Analysis
A key element of any strategic communications plan is understanding how the employees and staff communicate both internally and externally. This is best accomplished by hosting individual interviews with representative groups in the organization. Interviews should be conducted using open-ended questions with the goal of understanding how workflows and day-to-day processes intersect with communications technologies.
While people often think in terms of specific technology, i.e., “I need a button on my phone that does this,” the best practice for people conducting the interviews is to focus lines of inquiry on understanding the business requirement, rather than the technology. Guiding the interviewee to focus on their workflow, rather than their perception of technology is essential. As frontline people, they are often best positioned to understand their specific job-related requirements but from a technological perspective, may only be aware of how their existing technology functions, rather than the broader universe of possibilities.
Designing communications tools to support specific workflows enhances understanding how they intersect, thus ensuring any communication technology implemented fits with processes and meets organizational requirements. User communities may not know what’s possible so allowing time for interviewees to imagine a world of possibilities improves understanding of communication needs — for example, once you've collected information about all the different workflows, you can consider CPaaS microservices to create a custom communications flow versus buying a behemoth non-customizable platform, or explore how robotic processing automation (RPA) can streamline workflows.
Include These Elements in Your Strategic Plan
When developing a comprehensive communications technology plan, consider the organizational goals, culture and infrastructure in conjunction with the workflows and business needs of the end users. Once this information is organized and analyzed, the process of creating a plan can begin.
The strategic communications plan should focus on meeting the organization’s communication goals while standardizing a set of integrated technologies to improve efficiency. It should specifically identify integration requirements, so they are properly budgeted and planned during the implementation phases. Once the key components and integrations are identified, the next step is to develop a set of projects and timelines to procure and implement the solution elements to meet the objectives.
To ensure ongoing technological alignment, the plan should include details about which workflows and processes are supported by which projects, and when those can be expected to complete. Communicating early and often about when the solutions will be available and what gaps will be addressed will reduce the growth and spread of shadow IT technologies that do not align with the overall communication strategy.
The plan should also include strategies for user adoption, standardization, expectations, and requirements. Onboarding, training, and user adoption initiatives must be a top priority. Otherwise, the strategic vision won’t be realized.
As you approach the new year, make your resolution to take a strategic view of the various ways your organization is communicating and collaborating, and align your collaboration technology accordingly, with a roadmap, contracts and license review, and projects that align technologies with strategy in 2023.
Elizabeth is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. SCTC consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.